22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
There are many great books about photography, of which this is just one, but there are relatively few books about how to be a great photographer. On the latter topic this book is exceptional.
Ansel Adams was clearly both a gentleman and a gentle man, who lived to create great images for the pleasure and education of others. We are exceptionally lucky that he left us both his wonderful pictures, but also a few books which explain not only how, but also why some of them were created.
This book covers a photography career of over 60 years, taking 40 of his greatest pictures, and describing how they were made. Although much of the technical advice is still valid today, a lot of it requires on the fly translation from the language of large format cameras and glass plates to the world of digital SLRs, with tiny sensors and vast memory cards. That exercise might put some people off, but it makes you think harder about his advice, and that's a good thing.
However, where this book really scores is with the human stories of how and why Adams made certain pictures. Two examples stick in my mind.
Firstly, how one of his iconic views of Yosemite was made after a day's hard hiking with a full size view camera, large wooden tripod, and just twelve glass plates. He suspected that he had wasted the first eleven, and had just one left for a favourite view of Half Dome. He took extra care with that one, and the results are still thrilling 80 years on.
Then there's his tale of photographing 50s Californian farming families. This is a charming insight into how a great photographer of people develops both trust and ideas, lubricating both with an appropriate supply of beer. You suspect these days were not so hard for Adams as the great Yosemite hikes.
"Examples" also contains some remarkable philosophical insights into the process and role of photography. The one which now sticks foremost in my mind is that enthusiasm for a subject will not create great photographs - you have to visualise the image and its impact mentally, then make it. This is perhaps the single most powerful piece of advice in the book.
In 1935 Adams was concerned that the advent of 35mm would result in a vast number of bad photographs. Yet he was keen on the new medium, because he could also see its benefits. The same page could be written ten times over about digital photography, but you know that had Adams lived a little longer he would have been a keen PhotoShop-er.
This is a good book on photographic technique, but there are others. But there are few books which give such an insight into the soul of a great photographer.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
An essential book for all photography fans!
In 1983, Ansel Adams picked 40 of his most memorable and diverse black and white photographs as examples of his work. For each one he wrote a brief essay that described the circumstances of deciding to photograph the subject, how he came to prepare for the photography, his companions, special challenges that occurred along the way, how he selected the composition, tricky light and shadow conditions encountered, technical details of how the image was captured (equipment, film speeds, settings, filters, lenses, etc.), technical details of printing the image, and the surprises he experienced.
In the midst of all this, he shares his philosophy of life, nature, and the art of photography. It's like attending a master class with a genius. Even if you know nothing about photography, this book will open your eyes to new ways of seeing and experiencing the world around you.
For those who love these images, the stories that accompany them will broaden and deepen your appreciation of what Mr. Adams accomplished. If you are not a technically-oriented photographer or fan, realize that only about 20 percent of the material is primarily technical. The technical parts are very interesting, but the rest of the material is even better.
Mr. Adams did draw the line at one point though. "Absent from these pages [is] a statement of what the photograph 'means.'" His reason: "Only the print contains the artist's meaning and message." In other words, the work should speak to you for itself.
He does point out some limits to his essays that you should keep in mind. He often doesn't remember when he made a particular photograph. Friends would remind him that a certain print was published in a certain publication in 1934 and he had dated it as 1936 elsewhere. He also did not keep notes of how he made the image after the negative was developed. So all of the technical notes and dates are probably off a little. That's all right in many cases. You are not a historian, and you are probably not going to use glass plates. Modern equipment is much different from what Adams used, so you will be making major adjustments anyway.
His style of photography was one adventure after another. You'll be climbing with him through snow-clad forests in freezing weather, and suddenly he's down to his last exposure. Which filter should he use?
In fact, in many cases, Adams was gambling on how the image would turn out because he would not get a second chance. It's like reading a detective story, in which the story begins with a flashback sequence of how the mystery ends, like Sunset Boulevard, because the finished image is there is its duotone beauty.
In other cases, the experiences of Edward Weston helped him avoid mistakes. As a result, you get to see his delightful, dramatic images of dunes in Death Valley.
As usual, the Little, Brown pages are often too small for the images. Despite my annoyance at this limitation, I did not grade the book down since the essays are so wonderful (of more than five-star interest) and are the real reason for reading and examining this book.
I would suggest that you read The American Wilderness before reading this book. That will give you a context for understanding what Mr. Adams is talking about in these essays. The essays assume a certain level of familiarity with the people, philosophies, and locations involved. The American Wilderness can provide that background for you.
After you have swum in these wonderful stories, I suggest that you write an essay about something you have done that contains high drama and meaning. Then share that essay with someone who would appreciate know the whole story. How can others learn as rapidly and as well as possible if your experiences (successful and unsuccessful) are lost?
Keep your mind open for opportunity! It's all around you!
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2003
Ansel Adams is still the technical exemplar of ultra-realist monochrome film-based photography. His style, and above all his technique, has a great deal to teach us today, whether we're using the same silver processes as the f/64 group, or modern digital cameras.
As a book, I find this more readable than his Camera / Negative / Print trilogy. Although the keen student ought to read all four, the way in which this book examines the whole life cycle of each finished print is more accessible as an entry point to his approach.
As a coffee table book, there are better collections of Adams' work. This is primarly a text for those who want to improve their own photography.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 2010
For anyone looking for photographic inspiration these days there's a myriad of books out there covering everything from how to calibrate your printer for digital images, to how to synchronise your camera and microwave so that not only can you capture delicious looking images, you can eat them too... by which I mean, of course, many of them miss the basic fundamentals of photography, the major one in my opinion being: how to see, evaluate and best capture the available light.
Of course I'd heard of Ansel Adams and seen many of his images, but for some reason I'd never stopped to really examine them. Then, in search of an inspirational birthday present for another photographer, I came across this book. After a dull story involving a certain second hand online book store that failed to deliver, then over delivered, I was left with an extra copy of the book, which I took the opportunity to read. Might I suggest you do the same!? I think it's called serendipity and just goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining, especially if it's in an Adams' print.
The writing is clear, engaging, intelligent and good humoured and betrays a man searching for so much depth in the final image, both of tone and emotion, that he almost constantly forgets some technical detail about how he captured it! Whilst this might frustrate the person intent on replicating his techniques, it'll set others free, encouraging them to step off the beaten path and find the thing that best speaks to them alone.
If there's one message I'd take away from this book it's: master your equipment so you can then make proper mistakes. A bit like a black belt martial artist who, after years of training, finally feels they can properly begin.
If you tire of the words, just drool over the photographs and prepare to find something new in them each time you look. I defy anyone not to be inspired and find in the book more photographic nutrition than a year's worth of microwave meal stock photos.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 July 2012
I'll start this review by saying that I'm not really a fan of Ansel Adams. Yes, he's technically proficient and can expose any image perfectly, however for me his images don't "speak" to me and some of his compositions are questionable in my opinion. However...
I bought this book to read more as an autobiography than anything else. It's fascinating to read about the history of how a certain shot was attained, why he framed it a certain way, the exposure he used, the lens etc, but also how he remembers the scene years later. For that it's an interesting read whether you like his photos or not - as in my case.
The choice of photos are strange though. I mean, I'm no Ansel Adams fan but there are far more famous and emotive shots out there of his so I'm not entirely sure why these were picked over those. Still, doesn't really make a difference to the "behind the scenes" biography texts though.
Worth a read from a biography point of view.
on 11 May 2012
as a fan of Adams work, it's another perfect book to add to my collection. it's soft cover, so I'm not expecting the standards of hard back with paper gsm etc. Great book for the price!
This is a superb book giving the background to the execution of forty photographs by one of photography's greatest masters . Timeless .
on 11 February 2013
This is an excellent book and made an excellent present for a photographer friend. The quality is excellent and the service excellent.
on 7 November 2014
Quality good, delivered ontime as promised.
on 26 December 2014
Everything ok. Quick delivery.